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Woodgate needs crucial victory at Birmingham

Jonathan Woodgate has had a sticky start to his managerial career but can steer Middlesbrough to a much-needed victory over Birmingham at St Andrew's.

Boro have won just two of ten league games this season and the low point of a pretty poor two months came last Saturday when they lost 4-1 at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

Their performance against the Owls, who raced into a 4-1 half-time lead, drew a stinging response from Woodgate, who accused players of lacking workrate and determination.

Woodgate might also have conducted a critical self-assessment and revisited the merits of his team selection.

He left out Dani Ayala, a mainstay of Boro's backline for the majority of the last five-and-a-half seasons, and choose Ryan Shotton alongside Dael Fry in the centre-back positions.

The moved backfired, allowing Wednesday's physical front two of Steven Fletcher and Atdhe Nuhiu to cause all sorts of problems.

Ayala was restored to the side for Tuesday's clash at home to Preston and played a key role in a much-improved Boro performance which yielded a well-deserved 1-1 draw.

Apart from defending better they looked lively in attack with winger Marcus Tavernier catching the eye on his first league start of the season.

While Boro will have taken heart from an encouraging midweek, Birmingham gave their supporters little encouragement while losing 1-0 at Wigan.

It took a dreadful error from Lee Camp to settle a poor match but Birmingham could have few complaints after failing to muster a shot on target.

Birmingham's early optimism is starting to disappear and thoughts of pushing for the playoffs may soon be replaced by relegation fears.

Pep Clotet's side have scored just nine goals in their opening ten games and are heavily reliant on three-goal striker Lukas Jutkiewicz to trouble opposing defences.

Jutkiewicz's strike-partner Alvaro Gimenez has made a slow start to the season, netting once in eight appearances, and is struggling to transfer his skills from the Spanish second tier, where he scored 20 goals for Almeria last term.

Defensively, Birmingham have looked reasonably solid despite allowing last season's captain Michael Morrison to depart on a free transfer.

However, the promised evolution to a more fluid style of football is taking time to bear fruit.

Clotet soon sacrificed his favoured 3-4-3 formation for a more pragmatic 4-4-2 set-up reminiscent of the tactics employed by his predecessor, Garry Monk.

The confused approach may have contributed to their current run of three defeats in a row and could open the door for improving Middlesbrough to pick up a precious three points too.

Best bet
Middlesbrough draw no bet

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